The Corner

UPDATE: Republicans Dash (Some) Hopes of Reform, Victory

I have modified this post from the original. Originally, I freaked out over Republicans’ wobbliness on earmarks, which was stunningly revealed right after House Appropriations Chairman David Obey (D-Wis.) threatened to pass an earmark-free bill.

I think I am still correct to freak out, but I am told that I was wrong to read this blog post literally. It states that Senate Republicans wanted to put earmarks back into the omnibus bill if it had none. To wit, it said:

One idea that seemed to be a nonstarter with senators was House Appropriations Chairman David Obey’s idea of stripping all earmarks from the spending bills.

“We’re not going to let them do a punitive thing like that,” said Sen. Trent Lott (R-Miss.). “Earmarks are justified and legitimate … but they do need to pass the smell test. I wouldn’t give up my earmarks.”

Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), however, was only quoted as stating the following:

McConnell on Tuesday called for $70 billion for Iraq with no strings attached, an across the board cut of around 1 percent for domestic appropriations bills and the promise that lawmakers can keep all their earmarks.

His spokesman has just told me that, from McConnell’s perspective, this would not apply if Chairman Obey follows through and presents an earmark-free omnibus appropriations bill.

I went back to the transcript. McConnell, when asked this question directly, said the following in the press conference earlier today.

QUESTION:  On this appropriations scenario, as you know, Congressman Obey suggested taking money out of lawmakers’ projects and dedicating it to education or help the surge.  Under your scenario, would this haircut still anticipate that members would get these billions of dollars in earmarks?

MCCONNELL:  My understanding of what Chairman Obey was recommending was that the president’s number be met on the 11 appropriation bills.  If that were the case and it came over at the president’s number, I would seek to offer an amendment to add more on Iraq.  We would seek to get $70 billion, without strings attached, for Iraq. So I would be offering a different amendment if that particular bill comes over.

This requires a Ph.D. in appropriations to understand. But McConnell’s spokesman has been good enough to clarify. McConnell should not be included among the “senators” in the passage above. Call me slightly less disappointed. But I am still disappointed in the senators, and in the leadership for offering a deal that saves everyone’s earmarks, instead of a continuing resolution containing no earmarks. The rationale behind the 1 percent cut is to reach the President’s level of spending without hitting any one single target, and without cutting out anyone’s earmarks.

Rahm Emanuel (D-Ill.) taking full advantage of this last fact, as the Politico reports:

“First Mitch McConnell sides with the White House and insists on a blank check for Iraq,” Emanuel said in a statement. “Now he’s fighting for earmarks over funding for cancer cures, the veterans’ health care crisis, and 50,000 new American teachers.”

Emanuel seems sort of confused about what an earmark is, but in any case this is the sort of thing Democrats are going to say more of in the future. And why not? McConnell’s re-election campaign is now airing two new ads about how McConnell brings home the bacon, using his leadership position to secure earmarks for medical facilities and a tobacco buyout plan.

Obey is unlikely to present an earmark-free omnibus like he promised, but House Republicans acted like it would be a bad thing. From Congress Daily, forwarded by a staffer:

“We’ve heard those threats from the chairman of the Appropriations Committee before,” Boehner said. He was backed up at his news conference by several other members of the House GOP leadership, all of whom secured earmarks in FY08 spending bills, and he appeared uncomfortable with the line of questioning. “I’m also not here to say all earmarks are bad,” he said. “This is an idle threat thrown out by the chairman of the Appropriations Committee. I don’t think it’s sustainable on his part.”

A threat? The Republicans had been setting up all day to do a “butcher shop” to carve pork out of the bill. Now it is a threat if Obey says he’ll take out all the earmarks. While you’re at it, why don’t you just give the Democrats permanent control of Congress and keys to the liquor cabinet?

Later, I was on a conference call with Minority Whip Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) and RSC Chairman Jeb Hensarling (R-Tex.) right now. I asked about the earmark question, and they said Obey would not actually produce a clean bill. But hadn’t he just called their bluff? He promised a clean bill, and the Republicans almost immediately freaked out.

Blunt noted, however, that most Republicans would probably vote for a clean bill if it came up, Boehner’s comments notwithstanding.

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